On Monday, April 11th, 2005, JfH's Amy and John DiBiase caught up with Christian music's
true sweetheart Sarah Kelly to talk about where she's been and where she's headed,
including some insight into her upcoming sophomore album Where The Past Meets Today on
August 15, 2006.
This interview took place on: 4/11/05.
Jesusfreakhideout.com (John DiBiase): So how does a girl from Rockford, Illinois go from pursuing teaching to getting signed to Gotee and opening up for high-profile acts like Jars of Clay?
I think the teaching brought me [here] - it's funny, but I was never pursuing a music career.
I was pursuing helping people write down songs. So I'd go to church groups and work with them at
that point, and colleges, a lot of colleges, and teach them how to write down songs. And while
you're there, of course, they want you to show you their songs. Then they buy a CD from you, and
then I sold twenty or thirty thousand copies like that. I didn't know I was touring,
but I built a grassroots following when I wasn't really looking because I was so fulfilled just
helping them write songs. It was a great living, great grassroots. Then people here heard about
it. Take Me Away was an indie album. That was when I was selling out of my trunk at the
time. As is, except with different artwork, actually really different artwork (*laughs*), but they
loved it and Toby said he didn't want to change a thing. It was the eighth record deal offer and
it was the right one. (John: Well, it's TobyMac!)
Tobymac! This label is so unique in the fact that they are an independent artist, inc. They are
going to come alongside of you and partner more than...
(JFH's Amy DiBiase):: Try to change you?),
not even try to change you. I don't think the other ones try to change you, but for somebody who
has an independent vision other than just making CD's, Gotee is a great place. Because I'm
starting a piano school as we speak in Rockford, Illinois, then the second is scheduled to open in
Dayton and the third in Miami. I have a different vision than just... the CD's are a by-product
of my passion. Not the product of my passion. It's not the ball that my eyes are on. It's a
by-product of that ball. So, I think as long as it stays that way, it'll be good. Cause it's
just passionate, cause it's genuine.
JFH (John): And the Grammy nom?
The Grammy thing, man, that was wild! That I was on there. Oh my gosh, the Jars of Clay thing
when they asked me I was like, "Are you joking me?" Who doesn't go out with Jars of Clay? Most
people pay, they just wanted me to come. They were like "Come here girl, we want to get behind
your art because we think you're spectacular." (*sighs*) What are you supposed to think about
that? I mean, I'm just a little worship leader from Rockford going "I'm opening for the people I
used to chord out their music and sing." You know what I mean? It was awesome. Then right after
that, Toby called and said, "Sarah, you have a Grammy nom." I was like "There is no way
Take Me Away-this little indie album-just got a Grammy nomination." I thought he was
joking for about fifteen minutes, then I found out he wasn't and I also found out he was in the
same category! (*laughs*) It was me, him, Third Day - Third Day won - and Tait, I think.
(John: Good nominations this year.) I was shocked.
I'm sure everybody when they read that list when they saw my name was like (*makes a stunned look*)...
(John: I wasn't surprised.) I knew my album had some
spurts, it had this excitement behind it, but there was this general *pauses*... people at the
Christian radio level didn't quite embrace it. That's not a secret. I have a while to go.
I'm not impatient, that's okay. Once they get to know me, get to know my heart, once our listeners
get to know me, it won't be much of a choice anymore. (*laughs*) I'm just going to keep doing
what I do. If they play me, they play. If they don't, they don't. But it's okay. It was a bit of a
jolt from the beginning, it just helps you get your eye on the right ball again. If you get caught
up in all of that, you just go crazy.
JFH (John): You're working on a new album right?
Oh yeah! It's called At About Midnight. (Amy:
At About Midnight?) At About Midnight. Isn't that good?
Where the past meets today.
Editor's NOTE: The album was renamed later for a final title of "Where The Past Meets Today,"
releasing August 15th, 2006
JFH (John): Ooo! So do tell!
Do tell. Where the past meets today. Well, I have some, as we all do, shadows in the closet.
It was time to deal with them.
Things to stop running from, things to be honest with myself and honest with God about. A couple
of these situations in my past. Sometimes your church is not the easiest place to
be completely honest, and that's such a shame. But you feel marred, or nothing perfect,
or whatever. It was time for healing in me.
JFH (John): How's this album going to be different stylistically?
Sarah: Stylistically, I'm definitely embracing my classic rock roots. I do have
some mainstream interests. (John: Really?) Yeah, I do.
I'm not really sure what's going to happen with that. I'm not really sure what I want to happen
with that. Take Me Away had the mainstream offers as well, but I did not, at that point
feel comfortable. So I know it's not for the wrong reasons. (John They don't
mind the Christian huge slant there?) No. It's just figuring out Gotee - what's best for
them as well. So that's the tricky part now. But I'm on a team, and I want to be a team player.
I love this label. I definitely am on a team. I just want to get my music to the people who
understand it the best, which is mostly college and up. That college group, eighteen to thirty-ish,
really tend to really embrace it. Okay, but the album, it's definitely got more extremes. The last
album was four years ago, it was after I held a mic in my hand for maybe a year. So I was still
exploring my own voice. I'm very much more confident with my soft voice now. I'm unapologetic
about the rock side of my voice, finally. It took this long. So, you're going to feel that. You're
going to feel unapologetic rock 'n roll and you're going to feel very classic rock roots. My roots
from when I was a little, little girl was one half of my parents were listening to Zeppelin while
the other half was listening to Keith Green, and then there's me. And that makes sense when you
hear me, when you hear me live. You can tell both of those influences from my toddler years, or
whatever. It's definitely going to have a little bit of that going on. (Amy: That'll
meet a lot of people. That'll meet people where they are at.) Heck, yeah! Classic rock is
where it's at. Are you joking? Look at the mainstream. (Amy: It will attract them both.
) Yeah, man. It's definitely worship, definitely spiritual. If I can't have those moments
where you swear if you put out your arm you can touch Him, if I can't have those, I don't want to
do it. That's what I'm really really about. I am a Jesus freak. (*laughter*) I am. I love Him with all my heart. I'm not ashamed about that. I think people are okay with that as long as you're not weird about it. You know what I mean? You can just be honest about it. If you can explain yourself well... (John: Without being judgmental or on your high horse) Yeah! Exactly! People are okay knowing that you're singing about God. They're okay with that. Look at what's huge, it's all these things spiritual. The songs that you wonder "Is it Christian?", they are always the number ones. Because people do have a spiritual side and they need that. You never know. (John: It goes deeper than the plastic surface that a lot of mainstream pop only touches. The spiritual stuff has more meat and potatoes.) Absolutely, and what I really want to do is-there's a part of me that wants to walk through the doors that are opening over there and there's a part of me that wants to make a worship album. I'm at a crossroads right now. We'll find out what I pick. (*laughter*) It's all in the production, the songs are the same, either or. Isn't that funny? The songs can work as rock songs or work as [worship songs]. That's what I write, I write worship songs that are love songs. Because I have a very love relationship with God. So they say it does not matter which way I chose as far as the songs go, but I'm at a point where I almost have to choose. We are talking in L.A. to a couple of producers out there that are bigger names or whatever.
Dave Weiderman, who runs the Guitar Center across America, he's my Executive Producer. So he's hooking me up over there. Then there's the part of me that wants to do it here and just do a really slammin' worship album. When I say worship, I don't mean worship covers, I mean my album with a choir. That's what I mean when I say worship. I'm a worship artist, I really am. (John: But you do things differently and you stand out. There's a lot that's the same. It's like they're running off copies and they're the same worship artists.) I'm not talking about doing another version of who knows what song we don't need to hear again. I'm not talking about that kind to sell an album. (John: Well, Take Me Away was a very worshipful album.) Oh, those songs where all congregational worship songs in my church. You should hear them done at my church. I mean, when they do "Faithful Father," it's their favorite, and it's a church of three thousand people. They sing it slow, of course, but it's their favorite. That's one I would redo. That's the one I would redo on that album cause it just didn't fit.
But people have asked me since the very beginning of this thing, "Are you worship? Are you rock?
Are you CCM?" And they'll learn. The president of EMI sat me in a room and asked me that. He's
like "You fit everywhere and that's going to work against you, though." It's just such a shame,
you know. So, we'll find out. Okay, what's your question? Sorry. I'm all like "Chatty Patty"
over here. Sorry.
JFH (Amy): This is a long question, but I think it will be good.
Do you ever feel a connection with the crowd when you're singing and sharing stories about your
life experiences up on stage that you feel might slightly parallel the teaching career that you
almost pursued? Perhaps share any unique memories when a fan almost felt like a student to you
where you could teach him or her. When you're performing on stage and after the show, does
anybody every come up to you who wants to talk?
Yeah, absolutely! I wrote a song with a girl, it was in Fort San Luce, Florida. I think her name
was Heather, and afterwards she came up to me and said "I have a song and want to show it to you."
I mean, this happens everywhere, cause people know I love songs, I really love new songs and I'm
not going to be a harsh critic. I just want to hear them. I care. When someone shows you their
song, they're showing you their heart. You just be careful. I sat down with her and I heard the
song and it was beautiful. Then we wrote a little song together using some new lyrics she just
wrote. She's like "I have these lyrics but I don't know what to do with them." So I made her
strum out four chords and we came up with a melody. Then they asked me to come back. I was opening
for Jars [of Clay], I think, at that church-I'm pretty sure it was Jars- but then that church
asked me come back and work with the youth group because of that little girl. She wasn't little,
she was like sixteen, fifteen, but I came back and worked with the youth group. It was four months
later. I went back because I loved those kids. We worked with all of them.
JFH (Amy): Do you feel like "Take Me Away" represents
your testimony of the birth of your musical career? Or is there a different particular song that you
think expresses this slip into the unknown?
Wow, "Take Me Away" says it all doesn't it? That I'm such a fool, a fool! (*laughter*)
"Take Me Away" is a good song that definitely captures it. I think "Matter of Time" is another one.
Matter of Time was going to be the name of the album for a long, long time until
"Take Me Away" turned out so much better. That was kind of a mediocre song, I thought - "Take Me Away" -
but after production we were like "Wow! Where did that come from?" It was never a favorite.
"Matter of Time" was always the show-stopper 'til that point. "Matter of Time" also puts my
faith into words. I really do believe that it's a matter of time until whatever God is doing
through this whole thing is going to happen. I mean, look, it just did. I got a Grammy nom,
I'm not complaining.
JFH (Amy): Does it seem like the biggest blessings come into
your life/musical career at times when you least expect them? Give an example, if possible.
Sarah: Yeah, I think some of the best things for me happen after some of the
worst. I don't know if that makes any sense. You get a bomb and you think life can't get any worse
then you get another bomb, another bomb then all of a sudden out of nowhere, boom, you got a
Grammy nom. You're like "What?" (John: The rainbow after the
storm.) I was totally about to quit, maybe not quit but I was really thinking "Why am
I doing this? This is stupid. What a joke of a life I have. I live in a van!" (*laugher*) I'm
trading in my home when I trade in my van. Well, I have a home, but I'm never there. It was a real
discouraging time. So to hear Toby's call, it was like "What?" (John:
I know that feeling. We do too.) Yeah, just the worst things you can imagine, the worst
things you can walk through like bombs, just financial or in a relationship, and then out of
nowhere... if you just hang in there. That's when I look for them.
JFH (Amy): Have there been any experiences when you were reunited with an individual at one of your performances whom you worked with when you were involved with The Master's Commission ministry? Have you seen the fruits of your labor in any of those individuals lives?
Yeah! Those are the pride and joys of my life. I keep in contact with so many of them and I'm
very proud of them. Like Liz, she used to sing-if you go back to my first CD, Overwhelming...
(Amy: That's my next question...) Don't listen, do not listen!
(Amy: Do you have any fans asking about your four independent
CDs?) Yeah, and we don't sell them anymore. (*laughter*) There is bad news, they are
embarrassing. I didn't know I was going to be a singer, I would have been much more picky,
anyways. (Amy: Four years?) Five, I just loved to worship.
It was my life, those kids were my life. (Amy: Were you
stationed at a place for that?) Rockford. What we would do is I had six worship teams and
we would travel around. That's how I started touring, teaching kids to write music with these
kids. (Amy: Did you lead six worship teams?)
Yeah. It was beautiful, a beautiful time of my life. I'm moving back to Rockford in September
so I can do it again. I miss it.
JFH (John): Do you miss any of that music that was such a different time in your life?
Oh my gosh, yes it was a different time of my life. But I do. They weren't great songs,
necessarily, but the heart and the purity in them can be matched by no perfect bridge. Yeah, I do
miss that. (Amy: But are they salvageable that you could
re-write them? You could use some of the lyrics.) Yeah, and I do, like "All I See,"
that was one I wrote when I was seven. I would love to go back a revisit one called "Sit With You
Awhile," especially if I do a worship one. That song, I never put on any album but it's the one
I sang in the most churches. So it's weird, a little bit of rock, it's something special.
I would love to go back and revisit that. There's a few of them that I just-when I sit down and
it's really just me, not rockstar me, not anybody, not that I am a star, not "rock Sarah,"
just Sarah, some of those old ones start to come out.
Sarah Kelly's sophomore album entitled Where The Past Meets Today releases
August 15, 2006 from Gotee Records